This past January Pastor Jason gave us a challenge to read one chapter of Proverbs for each day of the month. And during that month, I did exactly that. Almost every morning a dear friend of mine and I would text back and forth about what popped out, or was significant to us or was convicted in the right ways. Now I’ve read the Bible MANY times over many decades and yet, it’s just as fresh as if I opened it for the first time.
When I read Chapter 24 these little verses just leaped off the page:
“Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall;
don’t be happy when they stumble.
For the Lord will be displeased with you
and will turn his anger away from them.” v.17-18 (ESV)
I immediately texted my friend at 6:30 AM (yes, that early!): “I hate injustice so I’m REALLY happy to see when someone gets what I think they deserve. Interesting that he uses the word ‘rejoices’…like almost gleeful. Hmmm, I feel that way too. It’s also a warning because only our Holy God has the right to judge and be angry over sin. He turns away His anger from
the wrongdoer and then…looks at me? Is that spotlighting the hatred and non-forgiveness in my Heart??”
My friend texted right back: “Crazy…that also stopped me this morning and I truly had to think about it for a minute. It just goes back to that command to love always. Including our enemy. It is easy for me to love the people I like…”
I totally agreed. But how does that work? How do I love always, especially my enemies? Let’s face it there are so many people doing such thoroughly awful, despicable things that horrify and sickened me. And the worst part is they seem to be getting away with it with seemingly no consequences at all. Ironically 90% of my job is dealing with sometimes grievous disciplinary matters. And that alone makes me see red…I just get so mad!
Ah…but the flip side is I actually GLOAT when they fall and stumble. I do rejoice. I am gleeful. I can almost taste it…I’m literally feeding off my hate and judgment. And now suddenly, after reading this “For the Lord will be displeased with me,..” it feels so wrong. I felt a gentle conviction from the Holy Spirit who is faithful to show me where I am wrong and why. Here’s the thing, when I run interference trying to exact justice, I get in the way of God’s perfect handling of the situation or that person. That person I judge and make payments to appease me is making restitution to me, not God. They are actually sinning against God even though I’m feeling the fallout of their actions. “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.” (Psalm 51:4) It’s interesting to note how King David doesn’t say he sinned against Uriah or Bathsheba, but only God. Eric, in our Life Group, brought that up in one of our meetings and it was a great insight.
As John Piper puts it: “Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. These horizontal wrongs are horrible: murder, rape, the death of a baby that David elicits. That’s horrible and wrong (and it’s not wrong to call it sin). But the thing that makes it sin is its vertical dimension. It is disobeying God's law. It is denying that he satisfies your soul to keep you from needing to kill or rape. It is sin in that it is an assault on God's authority and his right to tell you what to do.”
In other words, my wanting justice, because I feel personally wronged, diminishes how horrible sin actually is and the seriousness of hell. I think that verse “…and will turn his anger away from them” does not allow for God’s justice, mercy and ultimately a call to repentance. I’m actually in God’s way and it’s dangerous for me and that other person. Jesus Himself is the only one who took every sin from the wrongdoers, enemies in our lives, and especially mine, upon Himself on that cross. How can I call for personal vengeance when I’ve been forgiven so much?
Are criminal or immoral acts wrong? Absolutely! In a healthy society, there are laws that are protected and enforced for the greater good. But it’s my personal obsession for justice that feeds my flesh that is the problem. It blinds me to the fact that behind these acts are real people, people in need of a savior too. I’m not called to LIKE them or their acts, but I am called to love them into God’s hands that may lead them to repentance. I pray the Lord works that into my heart and actions. “Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God's anger do it. For the scripture says, ‘I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.’ Instead, as the scripture says: ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame.’” (Rom 12:19-20)
And that’s the rightful shame we all need to bring us to repentance. So grateful that a church like Wellspring not only believes this but lives it out in our community. So grateful that I am surrounded by my church family that prays for one and all, that offers love over “being right”. In a dark, bitter, and angry world bent on revenge, Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation.
Written by Laura Millan,
Life Group Leader at Wellspring Church